Edith Lee, a former pet shop owner, is a newly recruited puppy walker for HKSEDS. She started raising her first guide dog puppy, Yoyo three months ago. Lee’s three year-old and six-year-old daughters love dogs very much. Instead of keeping a pet dog for fun and company, she chose to let her kids shoulder a long-term responsibility.
Lee says Yoyo has changed the atmosphere in their home. “I think the discipline of my family members has improved since the arrival of Yoyo. For instance, my husband used to lie on the sofa after work, playing video games or watching football matches. Now he takes Yoyo out for a walk every night,” Lee says. Her children have also learnt to control their behaviour and avoid yelling or being too hyperactive.
Lee too, says she has changed in a good way since the adoption of a puppy. “I often feel quite stressed being a full-time mother. I can now walk Yoyo on the street for relaxation and temporary relief,” she says.
According to Lee, when a guide dog puppy joins a new host family, it tends to challenge the rules of that new environment. For instance, she wanted Yoyo to eat away from the family dining table, yet she would creep up to their feet stealthily. “I insisted she moves back to her original spot for eating. If you don’t uphold the rules consistently, she will know you are soft-hearted and will breach your bottom line later on.”
Fish Chan Wing-chee, one of the puppy raising supervisors of HKGDA, gives advice and assistance to host families on training puppies. Chan says the difference between training dogs and raising puppies is that supervisors encourage rewards rather than punishment.
Unlike Edith Lee, retiree Cindy Lee Mei-yung – another HKSEDS puppy walker – is comparatively inexperienced in taking care of dogs. She worried about whether she would be up to the job and struggled for a long time before joining the programme. She finally made up her mind with the support of her family members. “I hope I can contribute to the local development of guide dogs,” Lee says. Up till now, she has already helped bring up two guide dog puppies, a process she describes as rewarding and satisfying.
Throughout the one-year socialisation training in host families, a mobility guide dog instructor will pay regular home visits to assess the puppies. They score them in terms of their willingness to follow a person, sensitivity to the surroundings, the ability to remain calm and stable in the face of potential distractions and ease of training.
Not every puppy has what it takes to become a qualified guide dog. If they fail to achieve the required standard, they can become companion dogs for autistic children and the disabled. Some may return to their host families as pet dogs.
Though guide dog puppies are destined to leave their host families, Lee is positive about the separation. “They are like our kids. When they grow up, they will move out and live independently. It will be alright if you think in this way,” she says. “What is important is that her beloved puppies leave her in order to help the blind. “I feel proud of my puppies.”
Edited by Nicole Chan